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Opinions Wed, 8 Nov 2006

Debate on the NEPAD: are Africans telling their true story?

In October 2001, African political leaders adopted a blue-print development policy agenda called "The New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD", in Abuja, Nigeria. The NEPAD is founded on the principal objective of: "...to consolidate democracy and sound economic management on the continent. Through the programme, African leaders are making a commitment to the African people and the world to work together in rebuilding the continent. It is a pledge to promote peace and stability, democracy, sound economic management and people-centred development and to hold each other accountable in terms of the agreements outlined in the programme". The NEPAD concludes: "In fulfilling its promise, this agenda must give hope to the emaciated African child that the 21st century is indeed African's century".

But do Africans in 'ahaspora' and 'diaspora' alike, as well as other non-Africans who have Africa at heart, think NEPAD is the answer in giving hope to the African child? This is better answered when one considers the comments and analysis made by people across the globe on the initiative against the backdrop of similar development programmes that have been pursued in the continent, and have been greeted with much mixgiving.

One is happy that at long last African governments have declared their avowed and renewed determination and commitment to make the African people assume the centre stage of the continent's development agenda for us to achieve our own desired hope. The initiative, lauded as African made, with African responsibility and leadership (but lacks African financial resource mobilisation and management), seeks to engage, in serious businesslike partnership, with other development partners in the search for a sustainable development framework for Africa.

But the import of NEPAD and the capacity and authority of African leaders to carry out the set agenda is received with mix feelings. Many are baffled simply because the whole initiative, to some extent, lacks the integrity of effective leadership, taking previous experiences into account. The result is that many think NEPAD is yet another lavish structural agenda, which is toothless to achieve anything positive for the economic development of the continent. Hence, the many varied descriptions of the initiative by people from all walks of life!

Some call it 'KNEEPAD', which means the initiative could comfortably keep Africa on its knees in perpetual bondage. To them, NEPAD is just a repackaged dose offered sometime past, which failed to tackle poverty in the continent. "It just shows the extent to which Africa is going to be cushioned and supported while on its knees crawling faster and begging for assistance instead of being supported to stand firmly on its feet in a fair playing field in order to rub shoulders with other global stakeholders through fair trade," some may contend.

A private newspaper in Ghana, The Statesman, in its front page editorial of July 16, 2002 headed: "STOP CRUCIFYING THE NEPAD; IT'S THE KNEE-PAD TO HELP US CRAWL FASTER!," was worried about the meagre support of $6billion that the G8 offered for NEPAD's implementation against the estimated $64 billion needed to finance the initiative. The paper noted in its July 9, 2002 edition that the African leaders went to Canada during the 2002 G8 Summit "hoping for trade; instead, they got …what aid agencies described as 'recycled peanut.'' According to The Statesman the $6b pledged Africa that time is equal to the amount the G8 used to organise its five consecutive yearly summits since 1998. Prof. Akilakpa Sawyer, a former Research Co-ordinator and currently the General Secretary of the African Universities told a conference on "Africa and Development: Challenges of the New Millennium" in Accra in April 23, 2002 that NEPAD should be formulated to suit the context of African's peculiar needs. He said: "Evidence is clear about the failure to deliver developments in the continent. And unless we take a fundamental look and bring in new voice and interest we cannot make progress."

Another school of thought has also described the initiative as 'NEOPAD', connoting a neocolonialism legacy repackaged to keep the continent in check by economic giants, whose main concern is to take 10 points for every 1 point resource invested in Africa. Then there is the 'LEOPAD' school professionals. Their general believe is that Africa is only putting on brand new cloth under the tutelage of the West, while its integrity and substance remain as it were two decades ago. In fact, many ordinary people who have followed the debates, discussions, consensus and comments on the NEPAD initiative are more convinced that it is simply not the panacea for the continent's development. Some are even saying that it is yet another leadership betrayal, hypocrisy and leadership insensitivity being slapped on the face of Africans. "Declaring the 21st century African century is just a gimmick. It does not hold any hope for us. I am surprised about the way our leaders are being remote controlled under the guise of terms and jingles. We are not in a radio studio where a jingle is enough to get our listeners tuned to us," noted a young unemployed graduate, Kwame Ackon of Accra. Seemingly, people have a cause to believe that NEPAD poses a big challenge and from all indications it is likely to fail based on some past experiences.

In 1991, the UN General Assembly adopted by resolution 46/151, the UN New Agenda for the Development of Africa (UN-NADAF) to succeed the unproductive five year UN Programme of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development (UNPAAERD) of 1986. This project had the same principles and commitment by African governments, the UN, developed nations and development institutions that, we are made to believe, NEPAD will depend on and yet it was declared "a disappointing" project. UN-NADAF was noted as "a compact of mutual commitments by African countries and the international community."

The only difference here is that NEPAD uses partnership while the UNNADAF used mutual commitments but the imports are the same. With all the initial commitments and sense of partnership that were promised and dedicated to support the UN-NADAF, after its ten-year implementation period, the Economic and Social Council of the UN requested the Secretary-General to commission an independent evaluation of the programme. The 12 member panel-commission of eminent personalities and distinguished experts declared that programme "a very disappointing results." It noted that the reason for the disappointing results, among others was the failure of developed nations to make good their financial commitments for the programme which needed $30 billion minimum net Oversees Development Assistance (ODA) in 1992.

At the end of the ten years, net ODA to Africa dropped from $28.62billion in 1990 to $16.38 billion in 2000, a decline of about 43%, and this resulted in an average 3% growth rate as against the 6% needed to effect poverty reduction strategies. "While there was also support for the establishment of an African Diversification Fund for galvanising the technical assistance that was required and also provide additional finance for programmes and projects, the diversification fund was never established," noted the evaluation panel. It went further to state that, "In spite of the liberalisation, the promised benefits failed to materialise. The rate of investments remained low, capital flight was siginificant; foreign direct investment was not only negligible but also remained concentrated in a few countries and mainly in the extractive industries". The panel indicated that the poor economic performance was a function of internal factors including "Internal failings of governance marked by depotism and corruption, some of it associated with rent-creating economic policies…". UN-NADAF failed because it lacked the appropriate mechanisms for monitoring performance and ensuring that commitments were honoured. They therefore recommended, among others, that the NEPAD should rather be supported instead of either extending the UN-NADAF or launching a successor programme.

One may ask, has the UN-NADAF achieved positive results, will the UN systems have used "primary role of African ownership and leadership" of the NEPAD as the basis to discontinue the programme, and whether the above inhibiting factors have been critically analysed and solved to facilitate the success of NEPAD? Have new developed world emerged which have new mentality towards African development issues or NEPAD will still partner with these same developed economies with their same mindset on Africa? How different is the commitment of the West in honouring their pledges now from what it used to be during those projects? And finally, are our own leaders ready for the challenges ahead, and to what extent have they learnt their lessons?

The UN notes that "NEPAD is an integrated and comprehensive framework for Africa's development, designed by African leaders themselves". This is a confession that the continent has not been made to assume leadership and ownership roles on previous programmes detailed to facilitate Africa needs and concerns. So what has changed now to make African leadership innovative enough to be given the leadership and ownership roles? Or is it a question of "let them do it themselves this time," or a matter of genuine support by the UN systems for the NEPAD?

Interestingly, people tied to the NEPAD are very optimistic of its success. The former Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Dr K.Y. Amoako optimistically noted that, "what is new is that there is now a much better understanding of what it will take to fulfill this promise." He, however, signaled that Africa can only ensure sustainable growth and development if Africa governments and their partners worked above reproach to reverse the constraints and structural factors inhibiting the continent's forward march. But is there any thing new in NEPAD to shape the destiny of Africa?

Dr Yao Graham, Head/Co-ordinator of Third World Network (TWN) -Africa, an Advocacy Civil Organisation, believes that NEPAD, as an African ownership, could not be sustained, adding that beyond the political process deficiencies about NEPAD are of the substantive issue about the economic conceptions and strategy. He asked: "Will the G8 countries put money into an African-owned policy that did not sit within their cozy control?" One wonders whether Dr Graham does not believe in the leadership and ownership prowess of the Africans, including himself. But, one will believe, his worry was that, the ownership aspect tied to the NEPAD is just to tease Africans, as real ownership is not properly defined in the NEPAD document. He emphasized that the fact that the programme is still tied to the Bretton Woods and other donor programmes, there is nothing new to salvage Africa.

President Ollusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria thinks the initiative offers better governance capable of attracting foreign capital and boost aid from wealthy nations. Sense of dependency syndrome opportunism! He has stated that: "We are under no illusion that we have embarked no an easy task. But we know one thing- we are resolute, and we are determined to pursue success for this programme, while hoping to count on the support of the G8 leaders, as well as our development partners in other parts of the world". So what happens if such high hope on development partners is dashed, Mr President? But his Libyan counterpart Muamar al-Qathafi has described the initiative as being too capitalist and pro-Western. He believes that Africa's continuous dependency syndrome on the West, which NEPAD is going to enjoy as well, will make the continent sink further into oblivion. But do we have the resources to carry out this ambitious project on our own, Brother al-Qathafi? President Mbeki of South Africa notes that failing the continent this time would be a "disaster difficult to imagine."

Commenting on the NEPAD in a declaration: "WE DO NOT ACCEPT NEPAD! AFRICA IS NOT FOR SALE!!", The African Civil Society (ACS) noted in its July 4-8, 2002 meeting in Port Shepstone, South Africa, that the initiative is "a top-down programme driven by African elites and drawn up with the corporate forces and institutional instruments of globalisation, rather than being based on African people's experience, knowledge and demands." A challenge of ownership again! The group was of the view that NEPAD fails to effectively address issues of human rights which have been the bane of political development and good governance in the continent. The group criticized the initiative for making rhetorical references to human rights, noting that NEPAD "does not guarantee self-determination for the people and contains policies that contradict or are incompatible with democracy and human rights." The ACS questioned the integrity of NEPAD promoting regional economic integration while silent on people's rights to move freely to seek employment across borders of Africa. They expressed further, their dismay of linking the initiative to the US agenda on 'terrorism', concluding that "could be used as a lever for the introduction of legislation violating the basic civil and political rights."

The Council for Development and Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and the TWN-Africa declared in April 26, 2002 in Accra that, the NEPAD focuses too much on repackaged disappointing neo-liberal economic policies without any efforts to look into their disastrous effects, adding that NEPAD is anti-women since it is spinned to marginalise women. This assertion is equally collaborated by the Save the Children Canada who has kicked against the NEPAD as being anti-children. "Children have largely been forgotten in this new partnership for Africa", it noted. The G6B claims that the initiative is the brain child of few privileged African leaders which does not reflect African idea since the civil society was left out in the consultation and drawing up processes.The Oxfam International says the G8 should switch off the rhetoric and move into the implementation of the strategies, acknowledging that the financial commitments of the G8 are "stunningly inadequate." Meanwhile, Vernon Ellis of the international consulting firm, Accenture has said that the business community wants the NEPAD to move beyond words. "If Africa was a company, this hugely ambitious and massive challenge would be laughed off the stage. The reason is a huge challenge," he said, further adding that "the image of Africa outside is not a good one and needs to change, only Africans can change it." But Peter Watson, a former head of the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) told Reuters that Africa was on the brink of a massive investment influx similar to the trend in Latin America some decades back. He stated: "it is clear to me that there is a new trend in Africa- there is no longer the sense it is viewed as a monolith."

With all the criticisms for and against the NEPAD, one basic element that needs to be explored further is whether African leaders have the charisma and political and economic will to pressurise and conduct their fellows to fully subscribe to the agenda they have set for themselves. Experience has it that 90% of African leaders become tin gods, with their counterparts aiding and abetting in such autocratic processes. But judging from the statements by the Uganda President Yoweri Museveni that: "The continent has agreed to certain rules- to say that this is what we want to do to ensure that our economies grow and we should be judged by these rules," and that of Malawi's former President Bakili Muluzi: "We shall submit ourselves to peer review," one can rest that for once African leaders are taking an oath to be of good behaviour. They shall be judged by their own accord but the sad thing is that it would be too late to turn the clock around should they fail to live up to the tenets of NEPAD. By which time many would have perished, and many still would have had a dashed hope beyond restoration.

The views are varied and all hold water under certain circumstances. But the bottom line is 'is NEPAD going to be Africa's economic and political panacea or another disappointing policy agenda for Africa?' Are Africans telling their true story in the various debates on NEPAD? Only the poor posterity can tell the answer!

* This revised article by the author was originally published in the IFLRY’s Libel Magazine, 2003.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Nketiah, Seth
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